The news that Mitchells of Westport is expanding to the West Coast is in some ways surprising. In others, it is business as usual.
Mitchells — which grew from a tiny mom-and-pop men’s store to an enormous mom-and-pop-and-the-kids men’s and women’s store, then acquired 2 similar family-owned clothiers — is ready to add San Francisco-based Wilkes Bashford.
The deal is contingent on a competitive bid process. The stores in Union Square and Palo Alto are in bankruptcy.
While cross-country expansion may raise eyebrows, the acquisition seems a perfect fit. Wilkes Bashford — the 76-year-old founder of the chain that bears his name — will still be part of the business, news reports say.
That’s the Mitchells way. Ed and Norma Mitchell — who, when they opened their 1st store in 1958, did their own tailoring and coffee-making — have passed the family-store gene on to their offspring, in a big, important way.
Their sons Jack and Bill eventually took over, helping the store expand and diversify.
Jack’s 4 sons, and Bill’s 3 — Ed and Norma did not, apparently, pass along the female gene — have now taken over, in a variety of roles. Under the 3rd generation’s direction, Mitchells now operates Richards of Greenwich, and Marshs of Huntington, NY.
Now the 4th generation is poised to make its mark. Jack’s teenage grandchildren are being brought in to the family council — regular meetings of the entire clan. In Mitchell tradition, they will work in the industry — in non-Mitchells stores — before being brought formally in to the company.
Up to 90 percent of family-owned businesses fail to make it to the 3rd generation. The emergence of a 4th bodes well for Mitchells, Richards, Marshs — and, hopefully soon, Wilkes Bashford.